When I was a small boy, my mother, who never had a day’s illness in the 50 years I shared with her, would semi-coerce me to accompany her to the local shops, or the Quarp to be precise. The Quarp is how she pronounced the Co-operative [Wholesale Society], which was the local ‘supermarket’ in those days of unparalleled opulence.
The journey to the Quarp, one of about 1/3 of a mile, could take an hour. She would stop and talk about the aches, pains and illnesses other ‘wimmin’ in’t ‘villige’ had acquired. I never listened too closely to the dialogue. Had I done, I’m sure I could have been a rival to observation comedians like Peter Kay.
Because my mum was never ill, I couldn’t understand why she would waste years of her life gossiping about such garbage.
One thing I did learn however was the hierarchy of illness. You see, the first port of call if you were ill, or thought you were, or could gain some sympathy or advantage from it, was the doctor, the General Practitioner [GP].
Our GP’s surgery-yes, trust me this was only 50 years ago-was like a scene from a horror film. The air was thick with cigarette smoke, reverberating with all kinds of coughing, and it was so full of prescription junkies it was standing room only for novices of the dark ‘joy of illness’ [JOI] arts. I can only recall going there a few times. Childhood diseases, measles, chicken pox. Warts and verrucas.
Now only the select few graduated from this den of iniquity. They had secured a referral to the hospital-based consultant. So it was serious or serious faking. Cue a sharp intake of breath.
So, the action shifted from the free ‘second hand’ smoking of the surgery, to the horspital. Yes, that’s how posh people say it. And a big part of the drama was lost. Going in to see the doctor, hobbling, coughing, bent double or ashen-faced got you far more street-cred than any points card, but the exit from the surgery was down another corridor. No-one in the waiting room knew your fate, as whoever accompanied you waited outside the doctor’s room.
A combination of the genuinely ill and the JOI brigade ended up at the horspital, waiting to see the consultant. However, one more potentially defining moment awaited them.
You see the consultant had the power to generate a truck load of gossip for my mother and her co-clackers. And try if you might to keep it secret. These were the days of unlocked doors, neighbours actually talking to
each other and boundless tales of suffering, sheer inconvenience and grimness.
Are you ready for this?
If you had a world-class condition-and please forgive me for levity when a great number of poor souls were crippled and devastated with real illness-the consultant had in his power [they were all men in those days] to refer you to…THE *P*C*AL*S*! Except you couldn’t actually say the word. It could only be mouthed, like Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough’s immortal creations, Cissy and Ada. But, at the risk of Cameron’s’ internet spies grassing me up, I can fully reveal the word. THE SPECIALIST. YES, THE SPECIALIST FOR
GOD’S SAKE! Does it get any better than this?
Problem was, despite the immense honour this conferred on the JOI practitioner, one of the options, apart from all kinds of garnering sympathy, lead-swinging, ‘coping,’ illness dressing and being one of life’s passengers, was grave indeed.
Think about it. The GP couldn’t help you. Nor could the consultant. So, who was next if the *P*C*A*L*S* didn’t deliver? Can you work it out?
Most JOI people I know live pretty long, if tragic, wasted lives. Maybe there is something in the JOI mind-set that I haven’t yet fathomed.
Remember the old song ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ by Eddie Cochran, made popular [in the UK] by Showaddywaddy? Cochran clearly had it right, because step four may be a demonic re-creation of the 1950's GP’s surgery, filled with real flames, not smoke, no chairs, no prescriptions, no hope.
In my world, again immortalised in song, heaven [and therefore hell] is a place on earth. And what kind of world is it that encourages people to escape it by deliberately getting, or subconsciously attracting illness?
We clearly need a re-think and a re-model. Have a good day y'all!